Editing Tip: Avoiding Preposition Overuse

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As part of our advice about concise writing, this article shows the problems with too many prepositions in writing and demonstrates how to avoid their overuse.

Updated on September 9, 2014

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We previously discussed how to avoid noun string overuse, which may occur when nouns are used as adjectives for the sake of conciseness. However, a different problem may arise when noun string use is minimized: preposition overuse. A string of multiple prepositions in a single sentence can make the text choppy and potentially confusing for your audience, and especially for an international audience.

In particular, the Chicago Manual of Style (subscription required) recommends the use of one preposition per 10-15 words. Another general rule of thumb that is sometimes cited is a maximum of four prepositions per sentence. However, the number of prepositions that is appropriate may be context dependent, so it is preferable to focus on the clarity and flow of a specific sentence.

Replace prepositional phrases with brief noun strings, adverbs, verbs, or possessives

The following sentence contains five prepositions, making the text wordy and choppy:

Shorten or remove unnecessary prepositional phrases

Common examples of prepositional phrases that can be abridged include “in order to,” which is often shortened to “to,” and “with regard to,” which can be replaced with “regarding” or “concerning.” You can see more examples in a related article. Alternatively, certain prepositional phrases may be eliminated altogether if they are not critical to the content.

Replace passive voice with active voice

Passive phrasing may also add unnecessary prepositions, in addition to making your writing less engaging. For example, if the above example were written passively, it would read as follows:

Writing a manuscriptAuthor ResourcesLanguage editingConcise writingClarity in writingSentence and paragraph structureGrammarPreposition
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